NEW YORK – One way to look at the growing military tensions over a few tiny islands in the East China Sea is to see in recent events a straightforward case of power politics. China is rising, Japan is in the economic doldrums, and the Korean peninsula remains divided. It is only natural that China would try to reassert its historical dominance over the region. And it is just as natural for Japan to feel nervous about the prospect of becoming a kind of vassal state (the Koreans are more accustomed to this role, vis-à-vis China).
Being subservient to American power, as Japan has been since 1945, was the inevitable consequence of a catastrophic war. Most Japanese can live with that. But submission to China would be intolerable.